In an alternate universe, George Van Wyck could have given Dr. Benjamin Spock competition.
As senior vice president at American Bankers Life Insurance Group (ABIG), he guided the company into pioneering corporate day care in South Florida. In 1976, ABIG acquired an old motel across the street from its headquarters on Brickell Avenue and turned it into a day-care center for employees’ children. Van Wyck, working alongside the chairman, the late R. Kirk Landon, founded the nonprofit organization that ran the Brickell Children’s Center.
“He was one of 10 children, there were always kids around, babies loved him,” said his youngest daughter, Beryl Van Wyck. Her father died on Christmas Day at 87 and left a legacy in corporate child care in South Florida.
“He could hold a baby and they’d stop crying. He just loved kids. He wanted his employees to be happy and that’s one reason he started the day-care center when they were at 600 Brickell,” she said.
George Van Wyck helped American Bankers pioneer corporate day care in South Florida.
When the company moved to new headquarters on Quail Roost Drive in South Miami-Dade’s Cutler Bay in 1984, Van Wyck was instrumental in creating its in-house day-care center. The ABIG Child’s Place was an instant hit that had a waiting list for children not even born yet. The center was dedicated to Van Wyck upon his retirement in 1985.
In addition, Van Wyck developed the plans and was the company’s liaison for ABIG’s partnership with Southridge High School to offer work-study programs for its students and sponsorship for Southridge’s concerts and student trips.
“We felt that since we would be next door to the school, we should be good neighbors,” Van Wyck told the Miami Herald in 1984.
The company has always felt it should do what it could to promote good business education in Dade County.
George Van Wyck, American Bankers Life Insurance Group senior vice president, on company’s role in promoting education and in-house daycare.
As board member of Dade Partners, he was one of the founding directors of the Dade Foundation for Excellence, which supported public school teachers with mini-grants for special projects. Van Wyck noticed an accumulation of usable paper and binders that would wind up trashed any time a new slogan came into play at ABIG. So he co-founded the Education Fund, which, among its initiatives, warehouses obsolete materials from area businesses that teachers can use in their classrooms.
Born Feb. 6, 1928, in Wilmington, Vermont, Van Wyck was a star baseball catcher for his small high school — “Nobody else wanted to catch” — he told friends at First United Methodist Church of South Miami. A baseball scout approached Van Wyck to try out for the Boston Braves, but he declined.
Instead, he served in the Air Force where he taught radar school at the Boca Raton base. That was his introduction to South Florida and to the woman who would become his wife, Jeanne Anderson, in 1948. After a hurricane devastated the Boca base, he was shipped to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where, in early 1949, he taught the first integrated radar class after President Harry Truman’s order to integrate the services.
After his service, Van Wyck graduated cum laude with a math degree from St. Lawrence University in New York. He began his 30-year career with American Bankers in 1955, which led to a nickname on his first day. Seems there were already four Georges at the company, so he became “Van.”
Van Wyck, who flirted with the idea of becoming a reporter in high school, enjoyed a life-long photography and writing hobby. After retirement, he volunteered with the Miami Police Department’s homicide division to help solve cold cases. He was known at First United as the master of the “Word-orials.” These were short biographies of fellow parishioners.
From his own “word-orial” that he coaxed two fellow parishioners to write anonymously, it was revealed that one of Van Wyck’s earliest summer jobs was to pump the organ for a Universalist church in Wilmington. If he quit pumping, the organ fell silent during the service.
He never let that happen.
Van Wyck is survived by daughters Diana Jenkins and Beryl Van Wyck; grandchildren Lee Andre and Sarah Boynton; great-grandchildren Evelyn and Ross Andre; and sisters Emily Hawkins, Mary Patch and Alice Williams. A memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Jan. 16 at Plymouth Congregational Church, 3400 Devon Rd., Coconut Grove. Donations can be made to Branches, 11500 NW 12th Ave., Miami, 33168, a children’s ministry; Tropical Audobon Society; or The Education Fund.